Metallurgical engineers develop new types of metal alloys and adapt existing materials to new uses. They manipulate the atomic and molecular structure of materials in controlled manufacturing environments, selecting materials with desirable mechanical, electrical, magnetic, chemical, and heat-transfer properties that meet specific performance requirements. Metallurgical engineers are sometimes also referred to as metallurgists. Metallurgical engineers are a subspecialty of materials engineers.
Metallurgical Engineer Career History
Metals weren’t scientifically examined until the 19th century, but the roots of the science of metallurgy were developed more than 6,000 years before that. As far back as the Stone Age, when tools and weapons were being carved from rocks, people discovered that some rocks were actually nuggets of gold and could be used as a measure of value as well as for jewelry and ornaments.
By about 4300 b.c., metals were being melted and molded into usable forms such as weapons. People then discovered that metals could be improved by mixing them with other components (such as blending copper and tin to form bronze). Such mixed metals are known as alloys. Metallurgical discoveries like this helped shape the flow of human civilization. After people discovered that copper could be melted to produce bronze, tougher weapons and tools were produced, thus changing aspects of warfare and power.
Physical metallurgy as a modern science dates back to 1890, when a group of metallurgists began the study of alloys. Enormous advances were made in the 20th century, including the development of stainless steel, the discovery of a strong but lightweight aluminum, and the increased use of magnesium and its alloys. In recent years, metallurgical scientists have extended their research into nonmetallic materials, such as ceramics, glass, plastics, and semiconductors. This field has grown so broad that it is now often referred to as materials science to emphasize that it deals with both metallic and nonmetallic substances.
Metallurgical Engineer Career Requirements
During high school, you should pursue a strong background in mathematics and the physical sciences. At the very least, take chemistry and physics as well as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.Analytical geometry, calculus, engineering science, and design are also recommended.
Extractive metallurgical engineers usually work in ore treatment plants, refineries, smelter plants, or steel mills. They may also work at remote mining sites. Those working in physical metallurgy are usually located in labs or manufacturing plants, doing research and conducting studies on extracted metals. Process engineers work in a diverse range of environments, including welding shops, rolling mills, and industrial production plants for such products as automobiles and computer parts.
Most metallurgical engineers work a 40-hour week. Metallurgical engineers who are employed in industrial refining may work on night shifts. Occasionally, evening or weekend work may be necessary to complete special projects or work on experiments.
Metallurgical Engineer Career Outlook
Employment for metallurgical engineers classified under the materials engineer specialty is expected to grow about as fast as the average through 2014, particularly in the professional, scientific, and technical services industries. Within the steel manufacturing industry, employment in all fields, including metallurgical engineers, is expected to decline through 2014 due to consolidation of companies and continued automation in the steel-making process. However, engineers should find sufficient job openings because of the low number of new graduates relative to other engineering disciplines.
Metallurgical engineers will increasingly work with companies that are developing new methods of processing low-grade ores, that is, those that have not yet been tapped because they are not as profitable as higher grades. As the world’s ore deposits become further depleted, engineers will be needed to locate new sites and devise new alloy combinations. Also, metallurgical engineers will find jobs with companies that develop new methods of recycling scrap metals and those that devise nonpolluting processing systems and cleanup methods for existing plants.